The Roger Federer era isn't over

By my count, this is the fourth passing of the torch by Roger Federer.

The first was in 2008 when he lost that epic Wimbledon final to Rafael Nadal. The next was seven months later after another loss in the final of a major to his Spanish rival (remember the tears?). His loss to Juan Martin del Potro in the final of the U.S. Open in 2009 was yet another sign that the tennis landscape was shifting. And now, with his straight-set thumping at the hands of Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open, the Roger Federer era has ended once again.

Or has it?

Once you get past the fact that Federer isn't the same player he was in 2006, it's easy to accept the fact that losing a Slam semifinal to the No. 3 player in the world doesn't mean the end is near. People like to act like Federer is still in his prime and should be winning every match he plays. They were spoiled by his success, ignoring the fact that it was completely unprecedented in the annals of the sport, and expect it to continue.

The truth is, the Roger Federer era that we romanticize ended long ago. The era of him competing in Grand Slams is very much alive. He's not going to win three in a calendar year or be in the finals of every one, like back in the old days, but the world No. 2 is a threat every time he steps on the court. It's not like he's going out and losing first-week matches at majors or getting upset by journeymen; he's losing late in Slams to top-ranked players.

Yes, the loss will produce changes to the tennis hierarchy. It leaves Federer without a Grand Slam to defend for the first time since July 5, 2003. And, yes, he lost in uncharacteristic fashion: frustrated with Djokovic's antics, angry at the loudness of the people in Nole's box and squandering every opportunity to get back into the match. And, most importantly, Sunday will produce a major champion not named Federer or Rafael Nadal for only the third time in the past six years.

This was a long time coming, though. The Roger Federer era is very much alive. Waning, but alive. As he himself said after the match when asked whether it was over, "let's talk [about it] again in six months."

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